Celebrating its 65th Anniversary, Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic remains iconic and influential. The comic has spurned television movies which are staples to American culture, such as It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and, this year, The Peanuts Movie hit theaters. Its characters are beloved, recognizable and icons in of themselves. One member of the Peanuts gang has the distinct pleasure of being a one-name celebrity, and he - Snoopy - is perhaps one of the most famous dogs and mascots in the world. In a world where movie tie-ins with video games are the norm, Snoopy and the Peanuts crew go on a modern, side scrolling platforming journey in The Peanuts Movie: Snoopy's Grand Adventure.
Many great quests have humble beginnings, and in Snoopy's Grand Adventure the Peanuts kids meet up at Charlie Brown's house for a presumably riveting game of hide and seek. Snoopy, being the curiously inventive beagle that he is, tasks his mind with an even more imaginative spin on the classic children's game. So begins an adventure in which Snoopy travels to whimsical platforming worlds of his creative thinking, where he collects jelly beans, saves the woodstock troop of Beagle Scouts who are scattered and twirling around in various nooks and crannies of various levels, and finds some of his Peanuts friends along the way.
What Snoopy dreams up are colourful worlds which are tailored made for platforming. For instance, in the jungle world, Snoopy can climb vines provided he unlocks the particular costume to perform these platforming miracles. Costume changes are mandatory finds which expand levels and what you can do in them. If there's a Beagle Scout trapped behind a stone wall in an earlier level, a later costume unlock which gives Snoopy punching powers will be just the thing players will need to go back and rescue the lost bird. These costume changes are not only interesting ways to manipulate the environment or fun solutions to completing levels, but they're also cool nods to the Peanuts franchise.
Snoopy's Grand Adventure is very much targeted towards a younger audience. The levels are easy, with varying paths and loops to navigate around and explore. While they never take you too far out of a set path, they do enough wrap arounds to feel more engaging than just a straight platforming run. The worlds which Snoopy envision are bound by certain distinct features too, as with the aforementioned vines in the jungle, there are always gimmicks unique to each with environmental usages. Moving rock formation platforms in the Temple of Bunnies work in a specific way which lend to the level feeling like Snoopy is a tomb raider. In the moon levels, interspersed gaseous rocks determine how Snoopy will react, in which green gases make him go fast while red ones make him slow to a crawl.
The game look great, and the 3D environments include levels with some beautiful scenery filled with texture and details which breathe life into some of the worlds, even if in some cases they may nevertheless look generic and sparse. All of the worlds are as you'd expect but they would probably tickle the imagination of any young child. Robots on the moon. Overgrown spiders and snakes in the jungle. That's not to say that some of the environments don't stretch the imagination, such as Peanuts' Pigpen's dust clouds swirling around as enemies in Paris' underground. These incorporation of signature Peanuts motifs are wonderful additions which pay tribute to Charles Schulz's creations, and inject creativity into an otherwise normal, expected presentation. It's certainly fun seeing enemies which resemble some of the Peanuts kids, such as snakes that have Peppermint Patty's facial features and hair. There are also the enemies of the Bunny Temple which look suspiciously like Linus monsters.
It's not surprising that finding collectibles is not too challenging, given the game is geared towards kids. Nothing about the Grand Adventure is incredibly challenging at its core, and it's a game where failure is an afterthought. Even enemies will not lose their lives and can only be stunned temporarily if Snoopy jumps on their heads. Snoopy comes equipped with a heart health bar, but the game gives its players every chance to regain hearts easily. If an enemy hits Snoopy his heart will fly away and can be recaptured to fill the health gauge. Even if the player misses it, there are endless cookies waiting nearby for Snoopy to snatch up and regain his heart health. Boss fights, while perhaps the most challenging aspects of the game, are relatively simple and vary on classic twists of tried and true game mechanics. In one level, for example, Snoopy has to run away from a giant version of Lucy while jumping on and dodging various objects.
The charm of Snoopy's Grand Adventure doesn't stop there, as it settles for changing up what it does by letting players command his flight-ready red doghouse to take the skies in a battle against the Red Baron. It wouldn't be a Snoopy adventure without this callback to his antagonist, and it's here that the protagonist will navigate through storm clouds, enemy fire and missiles in a moving side scrolling level. Again, this isn't Bowser Airship difficult as the sort you may find in various Mario games, but it's an exciting addition, particularly as Snoopy can return fire in what becomes an aerial shooting combat level.
Despite all of the positives of being a manageable, decent platformer, Snoopy's Grand Adventure suffers in gameplay at times. Swimming in many of the levels feels a tedious chore and not completely fluid. Controls are not always responsive for jumping. On a few occasions, glitches forced Snoopy to float on the moon level where there were no floating mechanics present, and there was considerable slow down which halted movement in another level. While the controls may not always react as they should, it's fortunate that these moments do not plague the game throughout its whole run. It's also noteworthy that as the game is not difficult, the controls won't do much to frustrate any timed jumps to land a precision based tactic, as the game doesn't require that level of concentration.
What is noticeable are the optional co-op mode controls, however. A second player can take control of Woodstock, Snoopy's trusty feathered friend via the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Woodstock can confuse enemies, grab jelly beans and sometimes drag them within Snoopy's reach so that he can get them easier and activate shortcuts such as elevator type platforms which make platforming even easier than it already is. While it may make for a good feature for a parent and child or siblings, controlling Woodstock can sometimes be difficult. He can be left behind and easily lost to eager players running ahead. Respawning him leaves for a lot of confusion and frustration.
There's also the issue of repetitiveness in the music presentation. Each world consists of a set number of levels. They're not long to get through on a first try, which is fine considering many of them will require players to go back and repeat with new unlocked costume powers. However the repetition comes with the soundtrack. The pieces used are gorgeous, and classical Peanuts. The classical pieces underscored with jazzy tones and lively pianos are the best representation of Peanuts' use of upbeat notes and sounds, frequently used in previous animated media in the franchise. Unfortunately, each world gets just one piece which will be used throughout all of the levels tied to that world. It may not seem like that big a deal, but they're so good that you'd want more. Having to replay the levels, and even going through them the first time around, makes them lose their charm to a degree for having to hear them on repeat.
Movie and licensed game tie-ins may suffer a reputation for being half-baked, quick cash grabs. There's always the concern that originality of source material would be unjustly represented; after all, Snoopy's Grand Adventure was a simultaneous release with the Peanuts movie. The movie was one that was marketed hard before its premiere, even transforming the cast of NBC's The Today Show into creepy human counterparts of the Peanuts' characters. Luckily, the Snoopy game doesn't feel like a money grubbing attempt to cash-in on the hopeful success of the movie. It's actually a decent platformer, with collectibles and costume changes which add variety to backtracking and a drive to unlock all areas with new, fun powerups. That said it certainly isn't immune from some issues such as somewhat stiff controls, which keep it from being a great game. Still, as a game for younger crowds it's a fun and welcome option to further embrace the world of Peanuts.